munus : a service, office, post, employment, function, duty : a work : the last service, office to the dead, i. e. burial : a public show, spectacle, entertainment, exhibition
In fact, a resemblance in plan only and thus equally treacherous underlies a second hypothesis: that the coemeteria-basilica be derived from Roman circuses.1 At first glance, the hypothesis is tempting. The agon in its very beginning was part of the funeral rite and the link, of circus games to funerals was bound to be much in the mind of a period which had seen, preparatory to his funeral, the golden statue of Pertinax on a chariot drawn into the circus by four elephants. Augustine was well aware of the link between games and funeral rites, and Tertullian compares and contrasts the life and death of a Christian with a circus race.. A circus erected for funeral games and dedicated to the memory of Maxentius' young son, Romulus, rises on the Via Appia, opposite and nearly contemporary with S. Sebastiano. Yet, its resemblence is in plan only.
Richard Krautheimer, "Mensa-Coemeterium-Martyrium," Cahiers Archéologiques 11 (1960).
It remains for us to examine the "spectacle" most noted of all, and in highest favor. It is called a dutiful service (munus), from its being an office, for it bears the name of "officium" as well as "munus." The ancients thought that in this solemnity they rendered offices to the dead; at a later period, with a cruelty more refined, they somewhat modified its character. For formerly, in the belief that the souls of the departed were appeased by human blood, they were in the habit of buying captives or slaves of wicked disposition, and immolating them in their funeral obsequies. Afterwards they thought good to throw the veil of pleasure over their iniquity. Those, therefore, whom they had provided for the combat, and then trained in arms as best they could, only that they might learn to die, they, on the funeral day, killed at the places of sepulture. They alleviated death by murders. Such is the origin of the "Munus." But by degrees their refinement came up to their cruelty; for these human wild beasts could not find pleasure exquisite enough, save in the spectacle of men torn to pieces by wild beasts. Offerings to propitiate the dead then were regarded as belonging to the class of funeral sacrifices; and these are idolatry: for idolatry, in fact, is a sort of homage to the departed; the one as well as the other is a service to dead men. Moreover, demons have abode in the images of the dead. To refer also to the matter of names, though this sort of exhibition has passed from honors of the dead to honors of the living, I mean, to quaestorships and magistracies--to priestly offices of different kinds; yet, since idolatry still cleaves to the dignity's name, whatever is done in its name partakes of its impurity. The same remark will apply to the procession of the "Munus," as we look at that in the pomp which is connected with these honors themselves; for the purple robes, the fasces, the fillets the crowns, the proclamations too, and edicts, the sacred feasts of the day before, are not without the pomp of the devil, without invitation of demons. What need, then, of dwelling on the place of horrors, which is too much even for the tongue of the perjurer? For the amphitheater is consecrated to names more numerous and more dire than is the Capitol itself, temple of all demons as it is. There are as many unclean spirits there as it holds men. To conclude with a single remark about the arts which have a place in it, we know that its two sorts of amusement have for their patrons Mars and Diana.
Even as things are, if your thought is to spend this period of existence in enjoyments, how are you so ungrateful as to reckon insufficient, as not thankfully to recognize the many and exquisite pleasures God has bestowed upon you? For what more delightful than to have God the Father and our Lord at peace with us, than revelation of the truth than confession of our errors, than pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life? What greater pleasure than distaste of pleasure itself, contempt of all that the world can give, true liberty, a pure conscience, a contented life, and freedom from all fear of death? What nobler than to tread under foot the gods of the nations--to exorcise evil spirits--to perform cures--to seek divine revealings--to live to God? These are the pleasures, these the spectacles that befit Christian men--holy, everlasting, free. Count of these as your circus games, fix your eyes on the courses of the world, the gliding seasons, reckon up the periods of time, long for the goal of the final consummation, defend the societies of the churches, be startled at God's signal, be roused up at the angel's trump, glory in the palms of martyrdom. If the literature of the stage delight you, we have literature in abundance of our own--plenty of verses, sentences, songs, proverbs; and these not fabulous, but true; not tricks of art, but plain realities. Would you have also fightings and wrestlings? Well, of these there is no lacking, and they are not of slight account. Behold unchastity overcome by chastity, perfidy slain by faithfulness, cruelty stricken by compassion, impudence thrown into the shade by modesty: these are the contests we have among us, and in these we win our crowns. Would you have something of blood too? You have Christ's.
But what a spectacle is that fast-approaching advent of our Lord, now owned by all, now highly exalted, now a triumphant One! What that exultation of the angelic hosts! What the glory of the rising saints! What the kingdom of the just thereafter! What the city New Jerusalem!